You can bet Dan Gish will forget for a moment and look for Lewiston coach Mike McGraw on the soccer field before the first practice of the new season begins.

Lewiston High School coaches Dan Gish, left and Abdijabar Hersi listen to coach McGraw talk to their players after a game in 2018 at LHS. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

But Gish will remind himself that he is the new Lewiston boys head soccer coach, and one of the founding fathers of the sport at the high school might be on a beach enjoying his retirement.

Gish, a University of Maine at Farmington graduate, was McGraw’s assistant coach for the past two decades before being recently named head coach. The pair are good friends on and off the field and share a philosophy that the entire team comes first.

“It is just a tremendous honor. I get goosebumps thinking about it,” said Gish, who was a U.S. Air Force brat who lived in a lot of places. “This is home…I wanted to teach and coach in the community I lived in because I think you get a deeper connection.”

McGraw said he knows the program is in good hands with Gish and Abdijabar Hersi.

“The great thing about it is those kids love him,” McGraw said. “They know he’ll go to the end of the Earth for them. He has been in the program for 20 years. I think it is a great transition and a good idea. He has seen all the changes. I always thought with my two assistants, with Abdijabar Hersi and Dan Gish, it seemed liked they work hard. It seemed like they had a master’s degree in coaching soccer. It might be a bit of an exaggeration, I loved how they worked.”

Gish feels it has been a privilege to coach with McGraw and play his sophomore year for former UMF men’s soccer coach Bob Leib. He credits both men as solid mentors.

“Mike McGraw has never had a bad day,” Gish, a former girls soccer head coach at Gardiner, said. “Coach was always positive, energetic — just a genuine person. He truly wanted what was best for his players 

“He didn’t have an ego. He always asked as coaches (and his players) what we thought. He was the master of: ‘We did it as a team.’ It wasn’t just: ‘Hey, I am the head coach. It is my show.’ Everybody felt a part of (the team). He always made you feel a part of it, and that is something I intend to continue to do.”

Gish said he still speaks with McGraw and that will never change.

“I think the character of Dan Gish stands out,” Lewiston athletic director Jason Fuller said. “He certainly has a passion for the students and athletes here at Lewiston High School. He has been committed to the program the first day he walked in here.

“I think for a guy who grew up outside of Lewiston he certainly has become a vital part of our community. He is a guy who truly bleeds blue and white now. Those are some of the things that stood out.

“I am never going to question his soccer knowledge. He has a great understanding of our community and the students that make up our athletic program. Credit to Mike for allowing Dan freedom to be a leader in the program. I think that only helped him become a better coach over the last couple of years and put in the position to take the next step — and that is to be the actual head coach.”

SPHERE OF INFLUENCE

While McGraw liked playing a more direct style, Gish believed in possession play, where a team holds onto the ball and ultimately controls the game.

“I remember way back, like our first couple of years, we had a sit-down, and coach was always good about getting input after the season…,” Gish said. “I told him, ‘Hey, I think we need to do a little bit more of a possession team and maybe come up with a hybrid. Every team is going to be a little bit different.”

Gish also played a huge role in Lewiston’s defensive strategy. He believed that defense also played a role in offensive output of soccer “and everybody is a defender when you lose the ball.”

“I think the biggest change is me letting go,” McGraw said. “and allowing coaches to coach and to do the things they had strength in. It was a wonderful thing. It took a while to let things go away from me. The reward, you can’t beat it.”

But Gish pointed out that every new season offers new challenges and changes.

“We might change some things,” he said. “You are always evaluating. You will always keep the things that work. We will do some things similar, but we are not afraid to change. Once you get comfortable, things stop happening.”

As a strength and conditioning coach as well as physical education teacher at LHS, the former physical therapy assistant said virtual training works well and is one option for athletes who want to get stronger and faster when coaches aren’t there to supervise.

But Gish said he is confident, especially knowing that a lot of McGraw has rubbed off on him.

“I feel like I am still going to walk on that field and I am going to see coach there,” Gish said. “He is going to be there in spirit or he is going to be relaxing on the beach.”


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